Justin Thomas Photography

He was there among the sea of snarling headbangers and chilled-out fans of reggae as well as the moonwalking masses. For 35 years, Justin Thomas has worked as a music photographer, chronicling the likes of punk and rock 'n' roll, through to Britpop and beyond. His lens has captured artistes at the height of their powers - among them, The Clash, Blondie, Stevie Wonder, Led Zeppelin, The Rollings Stones, Michael Jackson, Blur, Nirvana and Radiohead. Now, his work is being shown for the first time in a dazzling exhibition, When You Hear The Music, Trouble Disappear (a lyric from the Stones song Can You Hear The Music), which features several unseen images of some of music’s most acclaimed talent. The exhibition, at the Graffik Gallery in Portobello Road, west London, kicks off in the early Seventies with behind-the-scenes portraits and on-stage theatrics of the biggest stars in the music business with the likes of Iggy Pop and The Who.  As the career of the now 55-year-old celebrity snapper progressed, early portraits of singers such as Sid Vicious, Diana Ross and Bob Marley were followed by those of bands including the Stone Roses and Oasis. Justin, from Caernarfon, north Wales, began taking photos at gigs when he was 18 and it soon became his passion.


Justin said: 'The Clash were my favourite band of the time, they had so much energy! It was very difficult to shoot them 'cos it was impossible to stand still, you would be moved from pillar to post by the crowd. The Music Machine had elevated areas on each side of the stage, so I made sure I was at the head of the queue and secured a position up there. The moment they came on, I climbed up onto one of the speakers. The security were telling me to get down but there was no way they could get to me. I could take my photos without being nudged every five seconds. The place was packed - many of the fans had got in by climbing through the toilet windows and it was well over capacity. Towards the end of the show, I got a frame of Jimmy Pursey from Sham 69 jumping off the speaker on the other side and just missing Paul Simenon's head. On the next song, Steve Jones of The Sex Pistols came on... and as far as I know, it was the only time The Pistols and The Clash shared a stage together. Another scoop!'


Justin said: 'I'd missed Marley's legendary gig at The Lyceum and the album was on my turntable constantly. I was a huge fan and was determined to get shots of him at The Crystal Palace Bowl. There was a big lake in front of the stage which must have been 100 feet from the front row of the audience. I realised the only way I would get any frames would be to shoot from the water I left my case with a friend, put four films in my rolled-up shirt sleeves and a couple of spliffs in my top pocket and waded in holding my camera above my head. There was lots of duckweed and it was very difficult to stay upright with the water over my waist. Towards the end, I managed to get closer to the stage but there were about 100 diehard fans there as well and it was extremely slippery. I was worried about falling in the water and ruining my camera and film, as I had already dropped one used roll in the water whilst changing film. It was fantastic to get that close to him especially as it turned out to be his last ever London show. There were no signs that cancer had already taken hold of him and he played one of the most dynamic, spiritual sets it's ever been my pleasure to witness. A true legend!'


Justin said: 'Wilco Johnson was the most exciting guitar player I ever saw. I saw Dr Feelgood loads of times and their shows were absolutely amazing. Unfortunately, I wasn't taking photos of bands at that time - or rather, fortunately, 'cos I could enjoy their concerts more. When you are taking photos, you don't tend to notice the music or the performance so much as you are concentrating on getting the shot. So I was very happy when he joined Ian Dury's Blockheads for a Christmas show. I only recently discovered the negs for this show - and they probably pleased me more than any other because Wilco was my all-time hero. An abiding memory is going backstage as an 18-year-old at Kingston Polytechnic and he shared his pharmaceuticals with me. That would never happen nowadays.'


Justin said: 'I did The Rolling Stones secret gig at the 100 Club when they played to about 250 people. They could easily have got another 1,000 in as everyone was crushed down the front, trying to get as close as possible. It was a sweltering bank holiday weekend and Oxford Street was deserted. In the end, they were dragging bemused tourists off the street into what would be their greatest rock 'n' roll experience ever. They played for ages, with Mick asking what we'd like to hear next. Sweat was dripping off the ceiling and my lens kept steaming up. I think Jagger got a bit pi**ed off with me popping my flash gun off from five yards in front of him. He aimed a bucket of water at me but luckily I saw it coming, ducked and it hit my girlfriend in the face, flattening her 80s' 'big hair' and smugged all her mascara. She wasn't happy but I told her she'd been annointed! What a gig, ladies and gentlemen, the greatest rock n' roll band in the world.'


Justin said: 'I'd gone to The Lyceum to photograph someone called Prince (pictured right at the venue, in the Strand in June 1981). All I knew about him was that he was an American artist and this was his first London show. When he came on, I remember all the photographers in the pit looking at one another and saying "WTF!". This diminutive figure came on in a dirty old man's raincoat with a "rude boy" badge on it, black stockings, black panties and high heels in different colours. When I turned round, the audience were going mental before he'd played a note, and then when he did, I understood why! Prince is an extraordinary talent. I've seen most of his tours and lots of his legendary after-show gigs My favourite was at Les Bains Douches in Paris when he came on at 4am and played until 7am for 150 people. He's an absolute genius!'


Justin said: 'I'd been commissioned by a Japanese record company to go up to Blackpool to photograph The Stone Roses. I'd heard a few tracks but I'd never seen them before. When I got to the beautiful Empress Ballroom, it was like a scene from hippy days - everyone was sat down and the vibe was 'E'. It was a wonderful gig and the band blew me away with their power. The deal with the Japanese was that I handed over all my film at the end of the show. I'd shot about nine or 10 rolls of colour but I was so impressed that for the encore I shot one roll of black and kept it for myself. I wish I'd kept more! I've never seen any of my colour shots to this day... somewhere, in the vaults of a Japanese record company are hundreds of unseen colour transparencies of a legendary gig.'


Justin said: 'I love to get a scoop. One of my favourites was Led Zeppelin. I'd had a tip that John Bonham's son, Jason, was getting married and that the original members may turn up. I dressed up in a suit to blend in and stood outside the church and photographed them as they came out. Peter Grant, their notoriously violent manager, saw me and approached me. I thought he was going to smash my cameras but he just smiled, asked if I was having a nice day and getting good pictures and walked away. He seemed like the perfect English gentleman - don't always believe what you read! I followed the cars to a hotel. It was a lovely day and I spent the afternoon in the garden drinking Guinness and smoking. Come the evening, everyone was getting drunk so I decided to move into the dancing room and mingle with the guests. A support band played then, before i knew it, someone announced, "ladies and gentlemen, Led Zeppelin" and there were John Paul Jones, Robert Plant  and Jimmy Page 10ft in front of me on a little stage playing to a 150 people. They hadn't played together for 10 years and did five songs - probably one of my favourite gigs. My photos sold round the world.'


Justin said: 'Guns n' Roses's Axl Rose was notoriously anti-photographers, even going into the crowd to attack one, and for their first Wembley Stadium show, there were no photo passes available. That was like a red rag to a bull to me. I bought a ticket, smuggled my camera in, got right down the front and was the only one to shoot the whole show.'


Justin said: 'I persuaded my agent that it was worth sending me to Bangkok for the start of Michael Jackson's Eastern tour under the premise that "you never know what might happen". I managed to buy an overpriced ticket from a tout. When I got to the venue, it was bristling with security and full body searches were going on. I got the girl who was with me to put the body of the camera in the waist band of her skirt, I hid my big 300m lens in the sleeve of my Levi jacket and had six rolls of film in each sock. We got in. I said to her, "I'm going in there" and she looked at me as if I was mad when I pointed to the packed crowd in front of the stage. It was unbearably hot but fortunately I was taller than the average Thai so at least I could breathe! When I emerged, the girl was laughing because it looked like I'd just been for a swim - my clothes were soaked through. We both sat on a friend's motorbike and it took us ages to get to the PA office. In those days, it took an eternity to wire photos but by 5am I'd managed to send about 20 frames. I got back to the hotel, freshened up and just as I was about to leave for the airport, I was handed a fax from my agent informing me that Jackson had been accused of child abuse. I was ahead of the pack, flying home with an exclusive while everyone else was flying in.'

Justin's photographs are on display at the Graffik Gallery in Notting Hill, London from July 20 to August 2. See www.facebook.com/GraffikGallery


By NICK ENOCH


PUBLISHED: 21:44, 12 July 2012 | UPDATED: 23:16, 12 July 2012

http://www.dailymail.co.uk


Written by Oliver Cox — September 03, 2012

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